Discovery Centers

Boston Children's Hospital

Allen Discovery Center at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Image courtesy Boston Children's Hospital

The human brain is the product of remarkable evolutionary changes that have resulted in our ability to use language, create complex societies, pursue science and create art. While we have some understanding of the genes that separate all modern humans from other primates, none of those genes can explain changes in behavior that took place in the last 50,000 years, meaning there is no simple genetic “switch” that can explain key aspects of brain evolution.  

The Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution will take a multidisciplinary approach to this question, with the goals of identifying key genes required for human brain evolution, analyzing their roles in human behavior and cognition, and studying their functions to discover evolutionary mechanisms. Joining Walsh, who will be leading the center, are co-leads Michael Greenberg, Ph.D., and David E. Reich, Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, bringing together expertise in neuronal molecular biology, human evolution, genetics and genomics.

Christopher A. Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.

Christopher A. Walsh is Bullard Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Chief of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children's Hospital, an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute. Dr. Walsh completed his MD and PhD degrees (with Ray Guillery) at the University of Chicago, neurology residency and chief residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, and postdoctoral training in Genetics at Harvard Medical School with Connie Cepko.  In 1993 he became Assistant Professor of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and he has been the Bullard Professor since 1999.  He became an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2002, and from 2003-2007 served as Director of the Harvard-MIT Combined MD-PhD training program.  He moved to Boston Children’s Hospital in 2006, becoming Chief of Genetics.  Dr. Walsh’s research has focused on the development, evolution, and function of the human cerebral cortex, pioneering the analysis of human genetic diseases that disrupt the structure and function of the cerebral cortex by fostering worldwide collaborations with physicians and families.  His laboratory has identified genetic causes for more than twenty brain diseases of children, associated with autism, intellectual disability, seizures, and cerebral palsy, and has discovered that some of these disease genes were important targets of the evolutionary processes that shaped the human brain.  The work has been recognized by a Jacob Javits Award from the NINDS, the Dreifuss-Penry Award from the American Academy of Neurology, the Derek Denny-Brown and the Jacoby Awards from the American Neurological Association, the American Epilepsy Society’s Research Award, the Krieg Award from the Cajal Club, the Wilder Penfield Award from the Middle Eastern Medical Assembly, and most recently the Perl-Neuroscience Award from the University of North Carolina.  He is an elected member of the American Neurological Association, the American Association of Physicians, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.

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